Contributed by: Brett Northey
To Australians, Nauru was well known as a small Pacific island-nation (around 21 sq km) that had embraced Aussie Rules more so than any other country - even Australia itself. Many of the tiny population of around 13000 people played footy, but unfortunately it wasn't ultimately a happy relationship on the financial front. Nauru was heavily mined for phosphate, giving the locals a high standard of living, but when the resources ran out, so too did many of the investments supposed to safeguard their future. Such investments included Nauru House (at one stage the tallest building in Melbourne) and the ill-fated Fitzroy Football Club.
On field things also turned sour, with the local league suspended in recent seasons - it seems too much passion for the game was leading to on and off-field violence. But the county still hopes to make it Down Under for the 2008 Australian Football International Cup, and is looking for financial support to allow that to happen. There's no doubt Nauru has the potential to be one of the higher profile nations at the tournament. WFN spoke with Nauru politician and former club coach, Hon. Fabian Ribauw M.P., about footy on the island.
Fabian is a Nauru Government Minister and contacted WFN after a recent story. He's keen to see his country attend the 3rd International Cup, and with the tournament as part of the 150 celebrations for Australian Football, what better nation to attend than one that has adopted the game so strongly. Fabian was there when Nauru played in the first Cup (they withdrew from the 2nd due to lack of finances), and says "I know I am excited just to think about our team again turning up to play again as I was one of the many spectators". For the proud players 8th was a little disappointing, but their results showed they were very close to both Britain (6th) and Denmark (4th).
So how has footy faired in the last few years? Not too well. "We have a lot of juniors who have developed their skills until footy was stopped two years back. It is very unfortunate but it just gets too violent sometimes when everyone's revved up and mad about their local teams". In fact the problems often were across the boundary, not just on the field.
Julian laments, "Footy is too passionate here and with the lack of umpiring and officials to guide us, the league usually ends up just before the finals with lots of violence by players from teams that will be knocked out". After 2005 the Government decided to stop football altogether.
It would be easy to dismiss the Nauru cause as one for the "too hard basket", but it should be seen as an opportunity to help the entire nation, using the powerful tool of sport and good sportsmanship. It appears to need Australian assistance from both government and football to start again with the school kids and teach them zero tolerance to abusing umpires and fighting, so that slowly that attitude can spread through the community.
"You are correct in the zero tolerance from school kids upwards but I think that first things first is to get qualified umpires and administrators of the game in order to better serve the objectives of the league instead of how it is at the moment with none qualified (leading to many bad umpiring decisions which fuels the angers of players and supporters alike)".
"Nevertheless, we still have many good players and juniors with different body types than the past which should bode well for us as a team". And the biggest challenge to putting aside differences and getting a unifying national team to Melbourne? "Hardest part is funding. (We're) 45% (chance of making it) but with some funding assistance this can be 75%".
With 300 to 400 adult players to choose from, Nauru could still field a very competitive side. But the major cost of flights, as for many developing nations, could prove prohibitive, at around AUD$900 return. Hopefully if Nauru can establish a relationship with a VAFA club, some fundraising might occur and perhaps billeting could be used to defray some costs.
In this the 150th year of Australian Football, will a company or club step forward with the spirit of football, of teamwork and support, to help out one of our game's original international footy countries?
Note: Mike Aroi is Nauru's official contact to the AFL for the International Cup, but obviously the more voices being heard the better, assuming they are all pulling in the same direction.
World Footy News